There are few constants in the automotive world but one that stuck around for an unusually long stint was the Defender, a no-nonsense off-roader that, after the the Series III was retired, started out life as the canonical Land Rovers in 90 and 110 guises after its 1990 renaming.
It kept the styling, mechanical simplicity, and all-purpose practicality of the ‘Series’ Land Rovers that it effectively replaced. However, the crucial difference between the marque’s more formative multi-model years in the 1980s versus 2019 is its status as a ‘premium’ manufacturer.
In creating a new Defender to continue the spirit of its earliest legacy, Land Rover must therefore engineer one that is also worthy of a higher price tag, justified by a familiar raft of high-tech features and some degree of luxury. Unfortunately, these elements seem to be in opposition with everything past Defenders and Series Land Rovers represented.
The project to design and engineer the L663 must have been one fraught with peril, at every turn having to side with either modernisation or retention, occasionally needing to invent a new combination of the two. Honouring its classic roots as well as laying the groundwork for a new 4x4 benchmark to last the next decade (or more) would be a continuous fight in trade-offs that will undoubtedly not please everyone.
In part, this explains why Land Rover themselves were at work long before the original Defender was put out to pasture in 2016. Their intentions were put forth publicly at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show with the DC100 Sport, a concept vehicle that served as a working template for what a thoroughly modern Defender could be.
Eight years later at the ongoing 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show, and after a long series testing regimens and hype-building teasers, the British automaker has unveiled the all-new Defender in its longer four-door 110 guise in various permutations of trim and powertrain, though there’s still more to come. In 2020, the more compact 2-door Defender 90 will roll out, likely with additional powertrain options.
We won’t comment too much on the subjective matter of aesthetics apart from saying that it does a fairly successful job of marrying the old with the new, managing to look tough and purposeful but firmly 21st century.
All the key ingredients are seemingly present, including the squared wheel arches, side-hinged boot, and outboard spare wheel. It’s a wonder how a relatively low drag coefficient of 0.38 was achieved given how upright the front end is and how boxy the new Defender remains overall.
The most significant change over its predecessor is the move from a body-on-frame construction to the monocoque D7x architecture, which was developed specifically for the needs of the next-gen Defender at significant expense and wholly separate from any current Land Rover product.
Enthusiasts and brand purists have already expressed disapproval at this decision, deeming the new Defender unworthy of its badge for this transgression. However, the Land Rover’s broader ambition is to engage new buyers as well as existing fans.
Just as importantly, extracting the requisite levels of refinement and comfort of a present-day Land Rover would be made far more difficult, needing yet more engineering effort to compensate. It would also upend the implementation of electrified powertrains and other tech, rendering it a vehicle for the moment but not the future.
The company claims the unibody platform allows the second-generation Defender to sport the most rigid body structure JLR has ever produced with roughly 3 times the stiffness of a comparable body-on-frame design.
At launch, Land Rover will be offering a trio (technically a duo) of four-cylinder engines which will form the bulk of initial deliveries. Kicking things off is a 2.0-litre turbodiesel from the Ingenium family, available in either D200 (147kW) or D240 (177kW) tunes while peak torque is level at 430Nm.
For now, the sole petrol option (P400) is a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-6 paired to a 48V mild hybrid delivering an impressive 294kW and 550Nm, though it is only available in the range-topping Defender 110 X. With this powertrain, it needs just 6.1 seconds to haul the 4x4 from rest to 100km/h. All engines are mated to an 8-speed automatic with no manual option on the horizon.
As mismatched as the concept of fast acceleration seems to a Land Rover Defender, the feat is quite impressive given that a roughly 2.5-tonne roving brick can be shoved with such ferocity, one that can also clear 291mm of rough terrain and wade through waters up 900mm in depth, speaking volumes about how keen JLR’s new engines are.
Naturally, the all-new model also inherits Land Rover’s acclaimed Terrain Response 2, a coalescence of computer-controlled drive systems that intelligently adapts vehicle behaviour to various selected modes by adjusting engine power, drive output, clutch engagement, and damper control. Via the adjustable suspension and surround-camera array, the Defender is also able to adjust its ride height as well as its approach and departure angle dynamically.
This is just the start of the new Defender’s in-vehicle tech suite, most of which are presented to the driver through the 10-inch central touchscreen that operates on the new-generation Pivi Pro infotainment and vehicle management system. The dashboard itself is a structural component aiding overall rigidity while being a callback to its predecessor.
The Defender 110 will be offered with multiple seating configurations - five seats over 2 rows being the default. However, a ‘+2’ third row configuration can be opted for a total of 7 seats and there’s even a clever (but optional) centre ‘jump seat’ at the front; another nod to past Landies.
Jaguar Land Rover Australia have order books open and have confirmed the all-new Defender 110 will be arriving on local shores midway through 2020 with a tentative starting price of $70,000 plus on-road costs. However, the finer points of which variants are incoming will only be confirmed closer to launch.